Alison Lundergan Grimes, the likely Democratic nominee in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, declined Friday to condemn Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s comparison of the election to the liberation of Europe from Nazi control in World War II.
In a brief interview with the Herald-Leader, Grimes said she did not want to speak for Stumbo, who said Grimes’ announcement that she was entering the race “reminded me of the feeling that our troops must have had when they liberated the European nations following World War II.”
Stumbo, who introduced Grimes as she rolled out her jobs plan Thursday night in Prestonsburg, was describing the scene when Grimes announced her candidacy in Lexington last summer.
“Can you imagine what it felt like to know that you were liberating a country?” Stumbo told the crowd in his hometown of Prestonsburg. “Well you are about to liberate your state. You are about to liberate your state, from the worst reign of misabuse that we’ve seen in the last thirty years. You are about to give us hope.”
Shortly after Stumbo made his remarks, the Republican Party of Kentucky issued a statement blasting Stumbo for “comparing Sen. McConnell to the Nazis.” The party called the remarks “appalling” and “completely inappropriate.”
Grimes, who sat down for the interview after giving luncheon remarks to the Women Mean Business Conference in Lexington, declined to parse Stumbo’s meaning.
“People try to put words in my mouth all the time, so I don’t want to attempt nor would I ever try to speak for Speaker Stumbo,” Grimes said. “And what he meant, I’ll let you ask him directly what he meant by his comments.”
She added: “I, last night, was there to talk about the vision I have for Kentucky, and that’s what I can tell you about.”
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Stumbo defended his comments.
“I didn’t call McConnell any names, but I also never called him a U.S. Senator,” Stumbo said. “He doesn’t deserve that title after doing nothing for Eastern Kentucky for 30 years.”
McConnell, known for his scorch-the-Earth campaign style, decried Stumbo’s language Friday afternoon.
“It just shows the lengths to which they’re prepared to descend in order to win the election,” McConnell told reporters after addressing a group of tobacco farmers in Lexington. “I don’t think that kind of rhetoric is helpful at all, and I’m sure he’s spending the day explaining to people like you that he really didn’t mean it.”
However, Stumbo’s remarks were not the first time a comparison to the Nazis has surfaced in the Senate race.
After an unauthorized recording of a private McConnell campaign meeting was made public last year, Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, told conservative radio host Mike Huckabee that “this is Gestapo kind of scare tactics, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
On Friday, it was Benton who sent an email to McConnell campaign supporters asking them to sign a petition “to demand that Alison Lundergan Grimes denounce Stumbo and his disgusting attacks.”
Lawmakers on Friday weighed in on Stumbo’s remarks, with U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, saying he “probably wouldn’t have said that.”
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said Stumbo’s comments were “regrettable.”
“We have to be very careful what we say, no matter what our intentions are because people tend to interpret it, scrutinize it,” Stivers said.
He added: “It will be incumbent on all people involved to be very careful in this race, especially because there is so much media attention, not just locally but nationally and internationally because of the high profile leadership of Sen. McConnell.”